One of my dog’s favorite activities is going to the dog park. The dog park encompasses everything he loves – attention from humans, attention from dogs and the space to run free. Oh, and dirt to roll around in. I can’t forget the dirt, that might be his favorite.
It wasn’t always a walk in the park (pardon the pun) though, at least for me. Being the owner of a small dog can make the dog park a nerve wracking place. Before getting my dog I had never been to a dog park. I had no idea what to expect; no idea what normal dog play was. The first time a dog began playing with my dog, I was terrified he’d get hurt. And I didn’t know how to tell if my dog liked it or not. I didn’t want my fearfulness to rub off on my dog, making him cowardly. So I did my best to keep a close eye, while also giving him some space.
Over time through trial and error I learned a few things that have helped make the experience less stressful for me, and hopefully also my dog.
1) Try to go to the park at the same time. I don’t know what it is – the fluffiness, the darting around running in circles – but my dog attracts a lot of attention when he comes into a new group of dogs. At the dog park that I go to, the Lakewood Dog Park, there are a lot of regulars at the time I arrive. My dog is pretty well known by this particular group, so the dogs are used to him and he doesn’t have to “introduce” himself each time.
2) Keep your dog away from the gate. The most stressful time for a dog is entering the park. Some dogs want to establish their dominance right away, so if your dog is all up in another dog’s grill, the potential for a fight to start is high.
3) Dogs don’t play like humans. Dogs like to bite at each other, roll around and sometimes even growl. I found this article to be helpful to determine what is normal play: http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/dog-training-tips-6-signs-healthy-play
4) Keep an eye on your dog! This one is more for others, than something I’ve learned to do. I love watching my dog at the park (and I’m a worrier by nature, so I have to be able to see what he’d doing) so I pretty much never take my eyes off of him. But a lot of times I see owners buried in their phones, oblivious to what their dog is doing. Or, even worse, someone who has just dropped their dog off and left. Problems can erupt quickly, it’s important for your dog’s safety and the safety of other dogs that you are aware of what he or she up to.
5) And lastly, have fun! The dog park is also a great place for you to bond with your dog through play.